Raised in a rural area of Louisiana, Brandon Green grew up around guns and hunting and shooting. He enjoyed it so much that he landed on the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps air rifle team at Bogalusa High School.
Little did he know that it would be the start of a career path that would lead him to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning. Just over a decade with the esteemed unit, the staff sergeant finally took the highpower rifle championship at the National Rifle Association competition at Camp Perry, Ohio, last year. He also won in the same category at the interservice championships at Quantico, Va.
The accolades have continued this year, with Green, 29, recently being named Soldier of the Year by the Military Marksmanship Association.
While he stresses that he "definitely is a soldier first and everything else comes second to that," there's no denying Green truly enjoys his job -- shooting competitively and training soldiers on the finer points of doing so, the latter a task that could save their lives one day.
He is among more than 80 shooters with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, 18 of whom are on his own service-rifle team. The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Green recently to get his thoughts on his job and passion for the sport. This interview is edited a bit for clarity:
So how did you arrive at this point in your career?
I was recruited. Through a junior ROTC program, I shot air rifle, and we shot on a national and international level. When I was getting close to graduating high school, I was selected to come in and shoot for (the marksmanship unit). So I got a letter of acceptance from the unit. I took that to my recruiter and joined the Army, went through basic training, went through (advanced individual training). Once I graduated AIT, I (was sent) here to Fort Benning and joined the unit and started shooting and training here. I've been here just over 10 years now.
So you were recruited out of high school based on your shooting skills?
Yes, sir. That's one of two ways that we normally get soldiers here to shoot for the USAMU. The other is to find other soldiers that are interested and shoot on their own competitively, and bring them in and give them a tryout. As long as their command will release them ... they report over here to us at the USAMU and we start training them and they start shooting with us.
What's the basic goal or mission of the marksmanship unit?
Everything that we learn through the competitive marksmanship side of what we do is transferred directly into the military marksman and how we train our soldiers and what we train our soldiers.
Everything we learn through the lessons on the competitive side of shooting we bring right back to the big Army. ... We teach (average soldiers) what we know and how we do things. You know, there are a lot of hard lessons learned in competition -- how to control your mindset, how to work and do things under pressure, little tricks and techniques that we learn how to do and manipulate the rifles the way we do -- we transfer that right over into what we teach our soldiers.
So this all trickles down to the soldiers who may end up in combat someday?
Roger that, yes. Our competitive season is actually a very short portion of the year -- about four months long. The rest of the time we're training soldiers on the ground here at Fort Benning, at posts all across the country, as well as overseas. I'm actually leaving next week to go to Germany to train soldiers over there, and at the end of the shooting season I'm slotted to go to Korea and train soldiers over there. So we travel all over the world.
You train active-duty permanent party soldiers already at their unit?
Yes, correct. The commanders will call upon the USAMU to come over there and do clinics. We teach for a week or two weeks at a time to run (various courses) to make sure their guys are well trained for what they need to do.
You don't shoot at the Summer Olympics (coming up in two years), but I understand others in the unit do?
Yes, sir. The international rifle, the international pistol, the shotgun teams, all of those are Olympic events and we train side by side with those guys. I shot air rifle -- an Olympic event -- as a junior in high school, and I kind of had my mind set on going that route until I started shooting highpower at the AMU here. I really fell in love with this sport and I've enjoyed shooting it for quite a while now.
But, we do train side by side with Olympic medalists and world record holders and, of course, there's always a competition. Anytime you get shooters around one another, they're going to compete, if there's a weapon involved that's what it's all about.
What type of rifle do you now use?
Once I joined the Army and starting shooting for the Army Marksmanship Unit, I started shooting service rifle, which is the M16 rifle. It distances out to 1,000 yards. We shoot them at 200, 300, 600 and 1,000 yards.
You must have grown up enjoying shooting?
I did. My family has been gun collectors for as long as I can remember and they've all been shooters at some juncture or another, not necessarily competitively. But I grew up in a rural area, so I've always had guns around me.
What's the day in the life of Sgt. Green like?
We start physical training (PT) every morning just like any other soldier, any other unit. We all come to work about 0700 (7 a.m.) and we PT for about an hour and a half. We take about 30 minutes to get ready to go out and shoot. We eat a little bit of breakfast. We draw rifles and then we move down range during our training season. We start training on whatever we're going to train on that day, whether it's one-yard line or a full course of fire, or whether it's just one thing or another we need to work on. We have a pretty strict training calendar that we go by and stick to that and work on the things we need to work on.
What about a day spent training soldiers and not shooting competitively?
It's normally the same thing, we'll come in at 0700 and knock out PT. Normally if we have a squad-designated marksman course here at Fort Benning, we start shooting at 0900. So all of the students will gather up here at our office on Easley Range, and we'll go down range and start training soldiers.
We teach a 40-man class at a time and normally we have about six to eight AMU personnel training soldiers. It works out where we have a lot of student-instructor interaction and it's really easy to convey our knowledge to the normal soldiers that we train.
Would you have liked to have done anything else in the military, or is this your dream job?
This is pretty much as good as it gets for a competitive shooter. For someone that loves to do what we do in the competitive shooting world, and training the warfighter, this is as good as it gets. ... We get a lot of interaction with guys that are going to deploy, that are going to have to use the tactics that we're teaching them. So it's very rewarding that we get to get out there and instruct as many soldiers as we do every year.
Have things changed at all as the wars have drawn down?
There for several years we actually deployed and went down range in Afghanistan, and taught soldiers over there. We helped stand up some marksmanship training over there in country. We were deploying six- or eight-man teams at a time, and we kept people on ground there several years, with guys constantly going in and out just to teach marksmanship skills.
It really works out well when you have guys in the environment over there, to see what kind of winds they're shooting in, to see what kind of environment they're having to train and shoot in. It really helps us tailor our training to meet the standards we need to meet for that kind of engagement over there.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
On the competitive shooting side, the toughest part is staying competitive, no matter what you're doing, whether you switch disciplines, or which rifle you're shooting. ... And staying motivated is a big part of it, too. It's easy for guys to get burned out after doing something for so long. You spend 10 or 15 years doing the same thing, shooting the same sport, and it's easy for guys to get complacent and not have the drive or fire to continue on and push themselves.
But, luckily, what we do and the way that our training plans are set up, it kind of keeps that to a minimum. We get to cross-train quite a bit, and every time we pick up a new weapon system or go shoot a different discipline, everybody's trying to beat everybody else. So you're shooting with Olympic-level shooters and even though I'm not a shotgun shooter, I'll go over there and train shotgun or pistol for a week or so at a time.
It's very, very humbling to do something you're not used to doing. But, of course, you want to beat them anyway. That competitive drive is there, so it really helps keep everybody motivated.
Was winning at Camp Perry in Ohio special?
It was. Highpower (rifle) is not an Olympic event, so the nationals is our bread and butter, our super bowl. They've been held at Camp Perry for well over 100 years now, so it's a very historical place for shooters to go up there and shoot. They also shoot the pistol championships up there ... so for a service pistol or service rifle shooter to get to go to Camp Perry and shoot on the ranges that all of the champions of the past have shot on, it's very, very neat to be a part of.
Name: Staff Sgt. Brandon Green
Hometown: Born in Covington, La., just north of New Orleans, but was raised in nearby Bogalusa, La.
Current residence: Lives in Marion County, Ga. (county seat is Buena Vista)
Education: 2003 graduate of Bogalusa High School
Previous jobs: U.S. Army is his only employer out of high school
Leisure time: Enjoys hunting and loves to fish for tuna on his boat in the Gulf of Mexico, about 60 to 70 miles offshore.